There are constant warnings about the dangers of using cocaine, but have you ever stopped to think about the specific risks? Not only is cocaine a highly addictive drug, but it also carries many short and long-term side effects on the brain and body.
While you may limit yourself to thinking only of the short-term euphoric sensations and similar side effects, you may be ignoring the unwanted short and long-term side effects.
The Short-Term Effects of Cocaine
The euphoric effects of cocaine are typically immediate and last only five to 30 minutes. Along with those effects come a number of lesser-known physiological side effects, including:
- Constricted blood vessels
- Dilated pupils
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
- Bizarre, erratic, and violent behavior
- Feelings of restlessness, irritability, anxiety, panic, and paranoia
- Tremors, vertigo, and muscle twitches
Serious medical complications can also occur, including sudden death due to cardiac arrest, seizures, or overdose when used in combination with other substances. Other serious medical complications include:
- Heart attacks and disturbances in heart rhythm
- Headaches, seizures, strokes, and comas
- Nausea and abdominal pain
Long-Term Effects of Cocaine on the Mind and Body
Regular cocaine use can cause the mind and body to build up a tolerance, which requires more of the drug at increased intervals to achieve the same effect and provide relief from withdrawal symptoms. Another danger is developing sensitization to cocaine, in which toxic effects like anxiety or convulsions are produced with even less of the drug. Both tolerance and sensitization increase the risk of overdose.
Using cocaine frequently or in binges increases your risk of psychological or physiological side effects, including:
- Panic attacks
Depending on how cocaine is administered, other specific physical side effects can occur, including:
- Loss of sense of smell
- Trouble swallowing
- Chronic runny nose
- Increased respiratory problems, such as asthma
- Increased risk of infectious bloodborne diseases like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis
Additionally, cocaine can cause damage to the internal organs and functions of the body, including:
- Tears or ulcerations of the gastrointestinal tract
- Significant weight loss and malnourishment
- Increased risk of stroke
- Heart inflammation, loss of function, and aortic ruptures
- Intracerebral hemorrhaging (bleeding in the brain)
- Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease
- Cognitive functions, such as attention, focus, memory, decision-making, impulse inhibition, and performing motor tasks
How Cocaine Affects the Brain
As a very addictive drug, cocaine creates long-term changes in the brain’s reward pathway. While most drugs cause dopamine release by changing the reward pathway, cocaine also causes excessive release of glutamate, an excitant neurotransmitter. This change in the reward system causes the intense desire to continue using the drug even when there are negative consequences.
In addition to the changes in the reward pathway, cocaine also changes the brain pathways that respond to stress. This makes managing stress a dangerous trigger for cocaine relapse. The correlation between stress and cocaine also means that cocaine addiction and stress-related disorders are frequently co-occurring.
Another way that cocaine can affect the brain is by diminishing the decision-making portion of this organ. This impacts a person’s ability to adapt to the negative consequences of drug use and can also cause a lack of self-insight.
Dangers of Using Cocaine
While cocaine use is initially sought for temporary pleasure, increased productivity, or as an appetite suppressant to lose weight, the consequences far outweigh any temporary benefits. The long-term effects on the brain are difficult to reverse, with powerful cravings occurring well into recovery due to intense memories associated with cocaine use and changes in the brain.
Additionally, the risk of severe physical damage, overdose, or death is significantly elevated given the ease with which the body builds up tolerance or sensitization. Worse still, when cocaine is used in conjunction with alcohol, opiates, or other substances, the risk of overdose increases further.
Can I Find Treatment for Cocaine Addiction?
Treating cocaine addiction is possible, and the sooner you have access to treatment, the lower your risk of negative side effects in your brain and body. Finding a facility with experience in treating cocaine addiction will help you in both the detox and treatment phases of your recovery process.
While cocaine can cause powerful and lasting changes in the brain, finding help as early as possible will help minimize and limit the strength and duration of these effects. By stopping now, you will also limit any potential physiological effects as well. Breaking cocaine addiction may be difficult, but it is not impossible. With professional help, you can break free and find recovery.
Using cocaine may seem relatively harmless at first, but the long-term dangers to the brain and body are significant and lasting. Due to the significant changes in the reward and stress pathways, cocaine can have powerful effects on the brain. Cocaine usage also poses threats to your health and even your life. Breaking free of cocaine addiction is not impossible; West Coast Recovery Centers can help you. Our treatment services for addiction and co-occurring mental health provide the structure and guidance you need to heal and transition back into healthy routines. We treat specific substance use disorders, including cocaine addiction, and we will help you find your own path to healing. Our staff is compassionate and non-judgmental, and we offer many different modalities so that you can find what fits you best. Contact us today at (760) 492-6509.